Valparaiso United (Az.) brings international flair, while hoping to attract coaches
By Charles Boehm and Roger Gonzalez
From seven players to 300 in five years, Valparaiso United of Arizona appears to be a rising club in the ranks of youth soccer. Taking part in the Jefferson Cup, the 95 boys team has had to overcome some adversity just as the competition began. Several players were stuck in Cleveland due to flight delays, but the squad did have enough to field a team on Friday morning in a 3-2 loss to Montgomery United SC 94/95 Black.
If you saw the game, you would have seen just how diverse of a team it is. Coach Sead Karaselimovic, who is Croatian, made it his goal to find the best competition for his team and put them to the test. Led by several Hispanic players in the attack, his team has brought an international flair to the pitch.
Kareselimovic hails from a nation where technique, movement, skill and possession is huge — Croatia is sometimes referred to as the “Brazil of Europe” — and says his style fits in well with the Latino players.
“We understand that the Hispanic population is the key to developing soccer in general in the United States, and especially in Arizona and the Phoenix metro area,” he said. “I think the majority of soccer players in our area are of Hispanic heritage. Myself being Croatian and most of our staff having played the possession type of soccer, it’s a type of mentality that really matches well with our ideas.
“I think we’ve also managed to create opportunities other clubs haven’t. Most of our Hispanic players who decide to play in college, we have provided the opportunity, at the appropriate level, of course. Unfortunately [at other clubs] some quality Hispanic players have just been used to get some results at the youth level, then just moved to the side. That was another reason why we decided to start the club.”
Currently, the team has players being recruited by schools such as Stanford, Washington, Harvard, Yale and MIT. Two players on the team are also trying out with European clubs Hajduk Split of Croatia and Olimpija Ljubjana of Slovenia. Kareselimovic’s hope was that the competition at Jefferson Cup would bring even more exposure to his talented team as they aim to receive college scholarships.
“The one thing that is not good for us in Arizona is, you have [only] one NCAA Division I institution, Grand Canyon University,” he said. “Then you have NAIA, very strong community colleges, but that’s it. So we’ve pinpointed the tournaments that do attract the colleges that we’re looking for for our players, instead of just sending everybody in one direction.
“We know that in this area there’s a large number of schools – we went to CASL [Showcase, in North Carolina] because we know in the Raleigh area there are some quality schools that we are also targeting for our players, and our families are targeting for their children.”
Valparaiso United 95s also took part in the Disney Soccer Showcase in Florida in December. Kareselimovic said they have chosen to play league games in an Arizona state league instead of regional competition, in order to allocate funds towards showcase tournaments like Jeff Cup.
Plenty of scouts were watching the squad’s early game, and that will surely be the case tomorrow. It’s just another example of how important exposure to college scouts is at the Jefferson Cup and what it means for ambitious players.